A redistricting plan laid out by the Kentucky House of Representatives is highly unpopular with members of the Letcher County Fiscal Court.
District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming said the plan would destroy Letcher County in regard to the county’s representation in Frankfort and severely harms the City of Jenkins by taking Rep. Leslie Combs out of the area and putting Jenkins into Rep. Keith Hall’s district, where there will be only four voting precincts. Legislative redistricting takes place every 10 years after the U.S. Census. Letcher County is currently split between Combs and Rep. John Short of Knott County.
“I don’t know if they are trying to make sure Letcher County never has another state representative,” Fleming said during the fiscal court’s January meeting Monday night. “We have three state representatives now (following the redistricting) and all four precincts in Jenkins will vote in the Pike County District.”
Fleming’s statement referred to the lack of voting clout Jenkins and the county will have in Hall’s district with only four precincts included. Letcher County Attorney Jamie Hatton said the redistricting plan would put Letcher County in a spot, but said there isn’t much that can be done about it. Fleming said there had been no loyalty to Jenkins, which had always turned out a high vote count for Combs, and said he was disappointed that no one had come forward to champion the county’s cause.
Judge/Executive Jim Ward said voting districts for the Kentucky State Senate will also be impacted by the redistricting plan and that many senators object to it as well. Ward guessed that some of the plan would be changed in a joint session, but added that in the meantime, the best course of action is for Letcher County residents to call either House Speaker Greg Stumbo (502-564-2363) or House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins ((502- 564-5565) to express their dissatisfaction with the plan.
Stumbo has said that population changes rather than politics drove the redistricting and that population losses in eastern Kentucky resulted in the changes.
In other business, access to treated water for people living in the Cumberland River area of took a major step forward as the court voted unanimously to enter into a joint resolution with Harlan County to request $800,000 in multicounty severance tax funding to extend and upgrade water lines from the City of Cumberland to the Letcher County line. Ward said the plan calls for Harlan County to extend the lines and build a water tank to serve the Letcher County residents.
Plans to bring treated water to residents of the Cumberland River area have been held up for several years because of the lack of a source of water. Letcher County officials have sought help from the Wise County Water District and the City of Cumberland as well as looking at the possibility of building a treatment plant to tap into water sources in Letcher County.
At last month’s fiscal court meeting, Magistrate Fleming asked the court to explore the possibility of moving the defunct Blackey Water Plant to Cumberland River. Steve Caudill of Bell Engineering, who works with the Letcher County Water and Sewer District on water projects, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Agency (RDA) would have to okay such a move because it still holds a lien against the plant. Caudill said RDA had financed the plant for the purpose of providing treated water in Letcher County and said it is likely it would rather see it work for that purpose than having it sit idle. In response to a question from District Four Magistrate Keith Adams about the building housing the plant, Judge Ward said it is likely that the building would stay in Blackey and a new structure would be constructed to house the equipment if such a move ever takes place.
In other water-related matters, the court voted unanimously to contract with the Kentucky River Area Development District (KRADD) to administer the grants for Phase II of the Thornton Water Line Project. KRADD administers other grants for the county as well. Bell Engineering’s Caudill also delivered an update on progress in extending water lines throughout the county.
Caudill told the court that 20 water line extension projects have been completed in Letcher County since 2004, and said at present between 40 and 50 percent of Letcher County residents have access to treated water. Caudill said that before 2004, only people living in Jenkins, Whitesburg, and Fleming- Neon, all of which have city water plants, had access to treated water. Letcher County has since added an average of 1,187 feet of line per week, he said.
“That’s something you don’t see in many counties,” said Cau- dill, adding that much of the water line progress took place in one of the worst economic climates since the Great Depression. A number of projects are still underway including the Payne Gap Project that will run lines from a tank in Jenkins to Millstone and to Kona to connect with lines laid by the Fleming-Neon Water System and will serve nearly 500 houses. Phase II of the Thornton Project is underway as well and Premium and Red Star will soon begin the second phase of their projects. The Thornton work has been bid and awarded and should begin in February. Phase I of the Deane Project, which will extend lines from Dean Mining to Coon Hollow, should start construction about the same time.
The Pine Creek/Pert Creek/ Cram Creek project (Phase I) is fully funded and has been submitted to the Kentucky Department of Water and the anticipated construction start is in March or April 2012. Extensions on Bull Creek and Elk Creek will be funded by AML as will Phase II of the Deane project. An application has been submitted to the Appalachian Regional Commission to fund Phase II of the Premium project. A number of other projects remain unfunded but are currently in the planning stages. At present, 715,105 feet of water line has been laid in the county.
In other business, Judge Ward said he would call officials at American Electric Power (AEP) in Hazard to ask why trees and brush cut by Asplundh have not been removed from some areas. Asplundh is a utility company specializing in tree management that contracts with AEP to keep power line right-of-ways clear. Doris Adams of Blackey told the court that while she is pleased to see Asplundh cutting trees that can bring down power lines, the trees and brush are being left where they fall and threaten to block streams and rivers and could cause flooding in the event of heavy rain.
Adams said she called AEP about the matter and was told it is Asplundh’s responsibility to remove the felled trees. Magistrate Fleming said this is a problem all over the county.
Letcher County Economic Development Director Joe DePriest gave an update on economic development projects in the county and told the court that a six-month feasibility study conducted by the Federal Bureau of Prisons classified all three sites in Letcher County (Roxana, Payne Gap, and Van) as feasible for locating a federal prison. DePriest said the environmental impact study will be awarded this spring with a target date for beginning this summer and the prison has a target date for completion in 2017.
DePriest also told the court that Summit Engineering is preparing bid specifications for a new “spec building” for Gateway Industrial Park and said Ferus CA has retained five additional acres at the industrial park for a projected expansion project. DePriest said the automated fueling center built at the Gateway Park by Childers Oil is complete and is operating around the clock. He added that a number of other proposals are under consideration. DePriest said that possible new sites for an airport to serve Letcher County are being considered because the Stamper’s Branch site is owned by United Coal and the company doesn’t plan to mine the land for several years.
Letcher County Court Clerk Winston Meade presented his annual final settlement of excess fees to the court for 2011. Meade told the court the total of excess fees is $36,295 and gave the court a check a check for $30,000. The clerk’s office will retain $6,295 until the regular audit is complete at which point the court will receive the remainder of the fees. The gross receipts for 2011 stood at $6,168,949. Meade praised County Attorney Hatton for his efforts in collecting $770,070 in delinquent taxes in 2011.
After Meade presented settlement, Magistrate Adams made a motion to allocate the $30,000 to Government Channel 98 for personnel and equipment. Ward reminded Adams the court had promised to loan the Letcher County Sheriff ’s Department $20,000 for payroll until tax receipts come in and said the settlement from the clerk’s office had made the funds available. Adams amended his motion to allocate $10,000 to Channel 98 now and the other $20,000 when the loan is repaid. The motion passed unanimously.
The court also accepted annual bids. Most bids were uncontested, except for HVAC, between Breeding’s Plumbing and Electric and Banks Refrigeration of Dry Fork. Breeding submitted the low bid of $35 per hour and Banks bid $41 per hour. The bid for carpentry was also contested and went to Jeff Potter of Hemphill for a bid of $20 per hour. Other bidders were Breeding’s Plumbing and Electric at $35 per hour and Blair Construction at $24.50 per hour.
The court awarded the uncontested bids to: fuel, J. Follace Oil Co.; culvert, Action Auto; crushed limestone, Mountain Aggregate; concrete, L.M. Wright; asphalt, Mountain Enterprises; electrical work and plumbing, Breeding’s Plumbing and Electric. No bids were placed for welding or for bridge lumber.
In other business:
• The court voted unanimously to enter into a joint agreement with Perry and Breathitt counties to upgrade HAZMAT Equipment. Letcher County Emergency Management Director Paul Miles said the county’s HAZMAT suits are nearing the end of their five-year lifespan and other equipment is old and outdated.
• The court voted unanimously to enter into a joint resolution with KRADD for a regional GPS (locating by Global Positioning Satellite) of manholes, valves and fire hydrants.
Bank balances for county agencies as of January 12, 2012:
• General Fund — $712,276
• Road and Bridge Fund — $1,099,087
• Jail Fund — $227,225
• LGEA Fund — $306,638
• Senior Citizens Fund — $95,179
• Forestry Fund — $12,332
• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Funded Depreciation Reserve Account — $554,855
• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Debt Service Account — $28.41